Monday, April 18, 2011

Does Digital Technology Impede or Assist Social Interaction?

I have a bad habit of daydreaming.  I'll think of a scenario and "live out" an event taking place in that situation, not typically in extreme detail for the purpose of entertainment or enjoyment, but rather because the entire scenario is based on an idea and allows that idea to be fleshed out.
I also have a somewhat new-found appreciation for quilting.  Ok, I'll be honest, I've come to love quilting.  The previous Music Director would go sit with the quilting ladies on Tuesday mornings for an hour or so and I have kept up that tradition, only, I quilt.
So, the other day I mixed my guilty pleasure with my bad habit and started daydreaming about quilting.  Yes...  I saw myself and the White Cross (the quilting ladies at church) all sitting around the quilt talking together as we worked on the project before us (which right now is a rather brightly colored, at times gaudy, purple and green triangle pattern).
Now, as with dreams themselves, daydreams are often disjointed, and so the telling of them requires foreshadow and backtracking throughout, at varying intervals.  At this point I must interject the thought that placed me in this particular daydream.  I have been considering making a quilt of my own, a fairly small one that could fit in a 3 foot hoop so that when I am sitting around talking with friends I could be quilting.  There were people coming over that night, and I really wanted to quilt as we sat around and talked, but considering my lack of a quilt to work on I contemplated other possible ventures during the evening.  Unfortunately all I could come up with was reading a book, which would result in not much talking taking place.
It was this thought that landed me in this daydream, which, by the way, appeared somewhat as a satirical youtube video in my head (which I may seek to facilitate the development of at some point).  I was sitting around this quilt with these ladies and they were talking, as they do at times, of the detrimental effects of handheld digital technology (i.e. phones, ipods, ipads, etc) on the social interaction of today's youth.
In this daydream appeared Lady 1 talking about how her grandchildren all sit around not even looking at each other but simply staring at these devices in their hands as they talk.  While she was talking about this everyone around the quilt was looking down at what they are doing rather than looking up.  Lady 2 then chimed in that she absolutely understood this and it bothered her very much, along with their excessive tendency to break conversation at odd intervals to mention what was on their screen rather than adding to the conversation at hand.  At this point Lady 1 brought everyone's attention to some stitches that a newcomer from the week before put into the quilt that it seemed would need to be taken out.  The group spent about 3 minutes talking about the new lady who was there the week before until Lady 3 piped up, "I think the worst thing about this new technology is that young people no longer know how to hold a conversation.  They are so engrossed in their own thing that they don't even hear when those around them speak."  There was no response to Lady 3's comment, all the other quilters just continued on with what they were doing.  Lady 2 added after a few minutes a comment about how, with social media, the new generation has lost the ability to have face-to-face communication.  At this point Lady 4 shared that she had not had a meaningful conversation with her husband in 4 years or so but didn't know how to break through the time gap because conversation makes both of them so uncomfortable.  The Ladies continued to chat about life, and their quilt, and their grandchildren's social woes, all caused by these newly invented gadgets which will be the downfall of society.

However, what struck me as I viewed this picture (and I hope you already saw this) is the similarity between the handheld devices and the quilt itself.  In ages past, did people sit down and simply "hang out" or did they have some purpose for gathering together?  Do people have deeper social connections when they remove all distractions and engage in conversation or when they gather around some common or communal activity in which they are all partaking?  Is the use of handheld digital devices during conversation really a new phenomenon or is it rather the reinventing of lost social mediums, such as quilting or softball or campfires or gardening or hunting or fishing?  Is my desire to quilt while "hanging out" with friends really that different than friends who may do things on their ipod while "hanging out" with me, and if I am going to quilt during this interaction can I give them a hard time for their preferred activity?

I am not so sure anymore that playing around on our phones while all sitting around talking is an entirely new idea or that it is even that harmful of a practice.  Either that or perhaps quilting circles were the bane of society for the past 300 years.  In any case, I would love, at some point, to make a video of the above scene, but I'm not sure that the ladies in the quilting group at church would let me get them on video, at least if I were to share it on youtube....

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